2019 IoT World: T-Mobile is Changing the Game for Massive IoT via NB-IoT

Introduction:

T-Mobile USA was the first U.S. wireless carrier to provide nationwide NB-IoT coverage last July.  The “uncarrier” is very proud to have 81 million cellular customers and a very low churn rate.  The company has invested billions of dollars in the last five years to modernize and transform its wireless network. As of February 7, 2019,  T-Mobile’s LTE network now covers 325 million people, according to a recent earning report..

During his May 14th 2019 IoT World keynote, Balaji Sridharan, VP of IoT & M2M at T-Mobile US, described the challenges to overcome to realize massive IoT at scale and T-Mobile’s wireless networks that might be used for three different classes of IoT connectivity.  Balaji also enumerate key features and attributes of NB-IoT and showed an interesting comparison chart of LPWANs.  He said its 600 MHz spectrum is deployed throughout the U.S.  [1]

Note 1.  During its April 2019 earnings call, CTO Neville Ray said: “we have over 1 million square miles of 600 megahertz LTE rolled out.  It’s working in 44 states and Puerto Rico. And we have a 100 million covered PoPs on 600 megahertz LTE. So we’ve said that in 2020, we’ll have a nationwide footprint on 5G. 

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IoT Classification and Characteristics [from Ericsson white paper]:

Massive IoT: Connecting billions of devices, small amounts of data volumes, (mostly) sent infrequently, low power required for long battery life (years not days, weeks or months).

Broadband IoT will need high throughput and/or low latency.; large data volumes.

Critical IoT will require ultra high reliability/availability and very low latency.  Industrial automation (and robotic surgery) will require time sensitive information delivery and precise positioning of devices.

Industrial Automation is tailored for advanced industrial automation in conjunction with the other cellular IoT segments. It includes Radio Access Network (RAN) capabilities to facilitate the support of deterministic networks which, together with ethernet-based protocols and other industrial protocols, will enable many advanced industrial automation applications. 

These applications have extremely demanding connectivity requirements and require very accurate indoor positioning and distinct architecture and security attributes. Industrial Automation IoT reinforced by Critical IoT connectivity is the key enabler for the full digitalization of Industry 4.0 for the world’s manufacturers, the Oil and Gas sectors as well as smart grid components for energy distribution companies. 

Figure 1: Cellular IoT segments

Above chart courtesy of Ericsson.

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T-Mo has wireless networks to meet all of the above IoT market segmants.  In particular, NB-IoT, 4G-LTE, and (soon) 5G.

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Challenges to overcome for Massive IoT:

  • Support billions of devices at scale (that includes provisioning and (re) configuration).
  • Long battery life (via low power consumption of devices/things)
  • Coverage enhancements
  • Global reach

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NB-IoT meets the requirements for Massive IoT:

Operates in guard bands of T-Mobile’s LTE network. [2]

Wide range of devices to be connected to the Internet using existing mobile networks (rather then new network infrastructure).

Key benefits include:  better battery life (again via low power consumption for connectivity), cheaper device costs ($5 certified NB-IoT module is now available), optimized data usage, reduced IP header and ability to transmit/receive non-IP data (which results in 30% to 40% less data transmission than if traditional IP was used), enhanced security via GSMA standards, licensed spectrum (no interference),, SIM based, and encryption.

Balaji said: “Improved network coverage is achieved via repetitions, which are used to enhance coverage.”  [3.]

Note 2. NB-IoT can also be implemented in “standalone” for deployments in dedicated spectrum.

Note 3. From an IEEE published paper titled: Enhancing Coverage in Narrow Band-IoT Using Machine Learning:

NB-IoT needs only a small portion of the existing available cellular spectrum to operate without interfering with it. Hence, NB-IoT provides more reliability and more quality of service (QoS) as it operates in regulated spectrum. Moreover, NB-IoT uses existing cellular network infrastructure, which reduces the deployment costs.

However, since repeating transmission data and control signals has been selected as a major solution to enhance coverage of NB-IoT systems, this leads to reducing the system throughput and thereby a spectral efficiency loss.

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Here’s a comparison chart showing: 2G,  licensed spectrum NB-IoT vs unlicensed band Sigfox and LoRa (WAN):

Chart courtesy of T-Mobile USA

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Balaji highlighted several Massive IoT applications that could effectively  use NB-IoT for connectivity.  Those include: asset tracking, smart metering, smart lighting, equipment monitoring, smart packaging, and intelligent waste management.

In addition to the $5 NB-IoT modules now available Balaji revealed T-Mo has a $5/year NB-IoT service plan.  

T-Mo hosted the U.S.’ first NB-IoT Hackathon to develop IoT applications that would leverage NB-IoT as a viable wireless network.  Sensing the presene of forest fires was an example he provided.

T-Mo partnered with Twillio to get NB-IoT to market.  They created a new development kit that allowed Hackathon participants to access the NB-IoT network.  [4.]

Note 4.  More than 100 new and seasoned developers descended on T-Mobile HQ to help shape the future of NB-IoT at the Hackathon.  20 creative and unique IoT concepts for prospective IoT solutions emerged that could leverage the low cost and power efficiency of NB-IoT and its reliability over long distances.

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U.S. Carrier Comparison for NB-IoT Deployments:

T-Mobile launched its NB-IoT network last July. AT&T’s NB-IoT network went live two weeks ago. Sprint said it is testing NB-IoT technology, but it plans to merge with T-Mobile in the not-too-distant future so may not roll out its own NB-IoT offering.

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NB-IoT Chipset Forecast:

Research & Markets predicts the NB-IoT chipset market is expected to grow from USD 272 million in 2019 to USD 2,002 million by 2024 at a CAGR of 49.1%.

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References:

https://www.t-mobile.com/news/americas-first-narrowband-iot-network

https://iot.t-mobile.com/narrowband/

https://techblog.comsoc.org/2019/04/27/t-mobile-u-s-profit-beats-estimates-plan-to-launch-5g-on-600-mhz-in-2h-2019/

https://www.gsma.com/iot/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/NB-IoT_Deployment_Guide_v2_5Apr2018.pdf

https://iot.t-mobile.com/hackathon/

https://iot.t-mobile.com/wp-content/themes/T-Mobile/device_images/pdf_download/Whitepaper_NarrowBand_IoT_March2019.pdf

https://techblog.comsoc.org/2019/05/15/2019-iot-world-verizons-narrowband-iot-nb-iot-network-now-covers-92-of-u-s/

 

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